Cancer is a scary word.
Even as a doctor, with everything I know about treatment,
my diagnosis, breast cancer, was scary.
A doctor and mother of two speaks about how the team at Mediclinic City Hospital’s Breast Centre encouraged her to take steps to help her and her family better process life during chemotherapy.
I found myself there after being recommended by GP after a general check-up, who found a lump in my breast.
He referred me to the Mediclinic Breast Centre, a place I hadn’t even heard of at the time, which is funny as it is now a big part of my life.
There was a suspicion of a malignant tumour. On the same day that I was referred, the hospital scheduled me to meet Dr. Rabia. Before I knew it, I had done another ultrasound, biopsy and mammogram.
People don’t realise it but diagnosis is a journey, it doesn’t start and end when a doctor confirms your condition. The initial part when you start is prolonged and can be overwhelming. Especially when the hospital is thorough, you’ll end up doing a lot of tests before anything is confirmed.
I’ll never forget that feeling in the room.
I was surrounded by people: Dr. Rabia, my soon-to-be breast care nurse and my husband.
As a doctor myself, I had known for a few days now what the outcome of the tests would be.
My husband held me when Dr. Rabia confirmed that I had breast cancer. And even with everything I knew about the disease, success rate, treatment plans, coping mechanisms, I couldn’t help but think “I’m going to die”.
You can think you’re the strongest woman in the world and you’ll find yourself crying, even if you don’t want to. They let me cry and process it, so did my husband who was standing behind me, holding me up quietly the entire time.
I would later come to learn that he too was shedding his own tears - without letting me know.
Hearing that you have cancer is immediately followed by hearing about how they’re going to treat it – but your head is still spinning from realising what’s happening to you.
Things need to start happening fast and you’re probably not mentally ready to think about your chemotherapy schedule. But the hospital team didn’t let me feel the full effect of this.
Their secret is to move quickly. Post-diagnosis, my breast care nurse, Elisabeth, took me downstairs and within the day, my appointments were all booked.
At one point, there was a conflicting schedule and I was struggling to come up with a solution. She led me to some seats, worked it out with the team and just told me the dates. A small thing like that gave me the space I needed to process the new direction my life was taking.
At that moment, you don’t want to spend time at a hospital and their goal is to get you out as quickly as possible.
You’ll find yourself making a lot of decisions that you’d never thought of making before.
I’d never even considered talking about cancer or explaining its effects to anyone. When you start chemotherapy, these are the decisions you’ll have to start making.
They helped me make my decision to shave my head. Then they helped me figure out how to explain it my 4-year-old.
When I told him I said, “Mom needs to take some medicine that will make her hair fall off”.
He laughed and said, “Don’t worry mom, you look wonderful, like a baby. And I’ll make you a magic potion to make all your hair grow back”.
I was worried about how to comfort him. He just wanted to comfort me.
Dealing with cancer patient families
It’s surprising how different people process what you’re going through.
My son and husband are the positive ones but I can be more negative. Chemotherapy can affect your mood and make you bitter even if you don’t want to be. The fatigue takes over you that way.
Being a doctor, I am at this unique advantage of understanding what was happening to me - in a way that my husband, or most people, aren’t.
His way of coping with what is happening to us is to understand everything that is happening to me - which naturally leaves him with a lot of questions. Some of which Google don’t always answer well.
The team is good with that. No matter how little, strange or constant the questions are, they always make themselves available to my husband.
One day, I had a nose bleed which I know is a common side effect of chemo. And within one hour, he had emailed six of the staff members to confirm if this was normal. The team made it a point to get back to him immediately or within the day - and you can imagine how busy the Breast Centre can get.
As a person living with a cancer patient, you can feel handicapped at home when you don’t know what’s going on. The Breast Centre ensures that he always feels that he has access to them - the same way I do.